6. Are Hindu
and legal definition of “Hindus” as “Indian Pagans” is clear-cut, easy
to use, and it has the law and historical primogeniture on its side.
This inclusive definition of Hinduism is eagerly used by Hindu nationalist
organizations (usually in its Savarkarite “Hindutva” adaptation), but there
is still a serious problem with it: a number of the people included object
to the label “Hindu”. Indeed, this label is often in conflict with the
self-descriptions of certain communities, particularly among the Buddhists,
Jains, Sikhs and some of, the Scheduled Tribes.
An obvious choice
for a definition could have been: “Is Hindu, he who calls himself a Hindu”.
But history decided otherwise: no Hindu called himself a Hindu when the
term was first applied by the Muslim invaders. The converse definition:
“is non-Hindu, he who calls himself a non-Hindu”, was also not favoured
by history: the British census policies overruled the self-description
of many Sikhs and tribals as “Hindus” and forced them into newly created
non-Hindu categories of “Sikh” and “animist” against their explicit wishes.
the term Hindu has gained wide acceptance as a self-description,
it is still an ill-fitting garment. Within the Sikh and Jain communities,
there is discussion about the question: “Are we Hindus?” Self-definition
will be only one factor considered in the following discussion of the Hindu
or non-Hindu identity of some borderline cases, along with the several
sets of criteria which we have come across in the preceding chapters.
6.1. The Ramakrishna Mission’s
The label “Hindu”
is very unpopular. Both in its traditional and in its activist incarnation,
Hinduism has been getting a bad press: the former is attacked as the ultimate
in social injustice (caste, self-immolation of widows etc.), the latter
as fanatical and dangerous to the minorities. Moreover, being a Hindu
brings material disadvantages: Hindu organizations active in the field
of education may find their institutions taken over by State Governments,
a take-over against which minority institutions are protected by Article
30 of the Constitution, esp. Art. 30.(1): “All minorities, whether
based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer
educational institutions of their choice.”
One such Hindu
organization threatened in its educational project is the Ramakrishna Mission,
founded by Swami Vivekananda. To protect itself against such takeovers
by the West Bengal Government, the Ramakrishna Mission
itself approached the Calcutta High Court in 1980 to have “Ramakrishnaism”
declared a non-Hindu religion which is, moreover, a minority religion.1
The opposite position, that the Ramakrishna Mission has always been and
still is a representative and servant of Hinduism was upheld not only by
the materially interested West Bengal Government, but also by lay members
of the Ramakrishna Mission itself (who had joined the Mission for no other
reason than that they wanted to work for Hinduism), and especially by the
teachers at Vivekananda Centenary College, Rahara, District of 24 Parganas.
The latter had started a trade-unionist agitation, supported by the Communist
Party (Marxist), against the college management, and their demands would
have to be met unless the college was a minority institution, which has
far greater freedom in selection and recruitment (including lay-off) of
Mission sympathizers like Abhas Chatterjee and Ram Swarup had no problem
in proving that Swami Vivekananda, representative of Hinduism at the World
Parliament of Religions (Chicago 1893), had established the Mission as
an instrument for rejuvenating and propagating Hinduism.2
Ram Swarup replies to those who take Vivekananda’s optimistic belief in
a “universal religion” for a goodbye to Hinduism: “Vivekananda believed
in a universal religion, but to him it was not an artificial product made
up of quotations culled from various scriptures, the current idea of universal
religion. To him, it already existed in the
form of Vedânta, which alone I can be the universal religion
in the world, because it teaches principles and not persons’.”3
Whatever else Vivekananda may have been, he was certainly a Hindu.
6.2. Ramakrishna’s experiments
The central argument
of the RK Mission for its non-Hindu character was that, unlike Hinduism,
it upheld the “equal truth of all religions” and the “equal respect for
all religions”. The latter slogan was popularized
by Mahatma Gandhi as sarva-dharma-samabhâva, a formula officially
approved and upheld in the BJP’s constitution.4 In
1983, RK Mission spokesman Swami Lokeshwarananda said: “Is Ramakrishna
only a Hindu? Why did he then worship in the Christian and Islamic
fashions? He is, in fact, an avatar of all religions, a synthesis
of all faiths.”5
The basis of the
Swami’s claim is a story that Swami Vivekananda’s guru Paramahansa Ramakrishna
(1836-86) once, in 1866, dressed up as a Muslim and then continued his
spiritual exercises until he had a vision; and likewise as a Christian
in 1874. If at all true, these little experiments shouldn’t be given
too much weight, considering Ramakrishna’s general habit of dressing up
a little for devotional purposes, e.g. as a woman, to experience Krishna
the lover through the eyes of His beloved Radha (not uncommon among Krishna
devotees in Vrindavan); or hanging in trees to impersonate Hanuman, Rama’s
But is the story
true? Ram Swarup finds that it is absent in the earliest recordings
of Ramakrishna’s own talks. It first appears in a biography written
25 years after Ramakrishna’s death by Swami Saradananda (Sri Ramakrishna,
the Great Master), who had known the Master only in the last two years
of his life. Even then, mention (on just one
page in a 1050-page volume) is only made of a vision of a luminous figure.
The next biographer, Swami Nikhilananda, ventures to guess that the figure
was “perhaps Mohammed”.6 In
subsequent versions, this guess became a dead certainty, and that “vision
of Mohammed” became the basis of the doctrine that he spent some time as
a Muslim, and likewise as a Christian, and that he “proved the truth” of
those religions by attaining the highest yogic state on those occasions.7
It is hard not
to sympathize with Ram Swarup’s skepticism. In today’s cult scene
there are enough wild claims abroad, and it is only right to hold their
propagators guilty (of gullibility if not of deception) until proven innocent.
In particular, a group claiming “experimental verification” of a religious
truth claim as the unique achievement of its founder should not be let
off without producing that verification here and now; shady claims about
an insufficiently attested event more than a century ago will not do. It
is entirely typical of the psychology behind this myth-making that a researcher
can testify: “Neither Swami Vivekananda, nor any other monk known to the
author, ever carried out his own experiments. They all accepted the
truth of all religions on the basis of their master’s work.”8
This is the familiar pattern of the followers of a master who are too mediocre
to try for themselves that which they consider as the basis of the master’s
greatness, but who do not hesitate to make claims of superiority for their
sect on that same (untested, hearsay) basis.
6.3. Was Ramakrishna a Muslim?
some more polemical comment, let us look into one typical pamphlet by a
Hindu upholding the Hindu character of the Ramakrishna Mission: The
Lullaby of ‘Sarva-Dharma-Samabhâva’ (“equal respect for all religions”)
by Siva Prasad Ray.9 The doctrine of “equal
respect for all religions” (in fact, even a more radical version, “equal
truth of all religions”, is one of the items claimed by the RK Mission
as setting it apart from Hinduism.
is propagated by many English-speaking gurus, and one of its practical
effects is that Hindu girls in westernized circles (including those in
overseas Hindu communities) who fall in love with Muslims, feel justified
in disobeying their unpleasantly surprised parents, and often taunt them:
“What is the matter if I marry a Muslim and your grandchildren become Muslims? Don’t
these Babas to whom you give your devotion and money always say that all
religions teach the same thing, that Islam is as good as Hinduism, that
Allah and Shiva are one and the same?”10
When such marriages
last (many end in early divorce), a Hindu or Western environment often
leads to the ineffectiveness of the formal conversion of the Hindu partner
to Islam, so that the children are not raised as Muslims. Yet, Islamic
law imposes on the Muslim partner the duty to see to this, and in a Muslim
environment there is no escape from this islamizing pressure. Thus,
after the Meenakshipuram mass conversion to Islam in 1981, non-converted
villagers reported: “Of course, there have been marriages between Hindu
harijans and the converts. (…) Whether it is the bride or the groom, the
Hindu is expected to convert to Islam.”11
Even when the
conversion is an ineffective formality, such marriages or elopements which
trumpet the message that Hindu identity is unimportant and dispensible,
do have an unnerving effect on vulnerable Hindu communities in non-Hindu
environments. They also remain an irritant to Hindus in India, as
here to Siva Prasad Ray. More generally, the doctrine that all religions
are the same leaves Hindus intellectually defenceless before the challenge
of communities with more determination to uphold and propagate their religions.
To counter the
facile conclusion that Ramakrishna had “practised Christianity and Islam
and proven their truth”, Siva Prasad Ray points out that Ramakrishna was
neither baptized nor circumcised, that he is not known to have affirmed
the Christian or Islamic creed, etc. Likewise, he failed to observe
Ramzan or Lent, he never took Christian or Islamic marriage vows with his
wife, he never frequented churches or mosques. This objection is
entirely valid: thinking about Christ or reading some Islamic book is not
enough to be a Christian or a Muslim.
to the point, he argues: “‘Avatar’ or incarnation may be acceptable to
Hinduism but such is not the case with Islam or Christianity.”12
In Christianity, one might say that the notion of divine incarnation does
exist, but it applies exclusively to Jesus Christ; applying it to Ramakrishna
is plain heresy. Sitting down for mental concentration to obtain
a “vision” of Christ or Mohammed is definitely not a part of the required
practices of Christianity or Islam. Neither religion has a notion
of “salvation” as something to be achieved by practising certain states
of consciousness. In other words: before you claim to have an agreement
with other people, check with them whether they really agree.
The same objection
is valid against claims that Swami Vivekananda was “also” a Muslim, as
Kundrakudi Adigalar, the 45th head of the Kundrakudi Tiruvannamalai Adhinam
in Tamil Nadu, has said: “He had faith and confidence
in Hinduism. But he was not a follower of Hinduism alone. He
practised all religions. He read all books. His head bowed
before all prophets.”13 But “practising all
religions” is quite incompatible with being a faithful Christian or Muslim:
as the Church Fathers taught, syncretism is typical of Pagan culture (today,
it is called “New Age”). Leaving aside polytheistic Hinduism, the
mere attempt to practise both Islam and Christianity, if such a thing were
possible, would have stamped Ramakrishna as definitely not a Christian
nor a Muslim.
Moreover, it is
simply untrue that Swami Vivekananda ever “practised” Christianity or Islam:
he was not baptized or circumcised, did not attend Church services or Friday
prayers, never went to Mecca, never observed Ramzan or Lent. But
he did practise vegetarianism (at least in principle)14
and celibacy, which are both frowned upon in Islam. Worst of all,
he did worship Hindu Gods, which by definition puts him outside the Islamic
fold, Islam being based on the rejection of all Gods except Allah.
quite satisfied worshipping Goddess Kali, but: “There is no respectful
place for deities in female form in Islam. Rama Krishna engaged in
the worship of Kali was nothing but an idolater in the eyes of the Muslims.
(…) Islam says that all idolaters will finally end up in Islam’s hell. Now,
I want to ask these egg-heads of sarva-dharma-samabhâva if
they know where exactly is the place for Rama Krishna in Islam? The
fact is that Rama Krishna never truly worshipped in the Islamic fashion,
neither did he receive Islamic salvation.”15
the RK Mission monks to try out their assertions on a Muslim or Christian
audience: “All this is, thus, nothing but creations of confused and boisterous
Hindu monks. No Christian padre or
Muslim maulvi accepts Rama Krishna’s salvation in their own religions.
They make snide remarks. They laugh at the ignorance of the Hindu
monks.”16 Ray makes the snide insinuation
explicit: “Only those Hindus who do not understand
the implications of other religions engage themselves in the propagation
of sarva-dharma-samabhâva; like stupid and mentally retarded
creatures, such Hindus revel in the pleasures of auto-erotism in their
wicked pursuit of the fad.”17 This
rude comparison means that they pretend to be interacting with others,
but it is a mere fantasy, all inside their own heads, with the assumed
partners not even knowing about it.18
Finally, Ray wonders
what happened to the monks, those of the RK Mission and others, who talked
about “equal truth of all religions” and chanted “Râm Rahîm
ek hai” (“Rama and Rahim/Allah are one”) and “Ishwar Allâh
tere nâm” (“both Ishwara and Allah are Your names”) in East Bengal
before 1947. As far as he knows, they all fled across the new border
when they suddenly found themselves inside Pakistan, but then: “Many a
guru from East Bengal [who] has been saved by the skin of his teeth, once
in West Bengal, resumed his talk of sarva-dharma-samabâva.
(…) But the point still remains that if they really
had faith in the message of sarva-dharma-samabhâva, they would
not have left East Bengal.”19 As so often
in Indo-Pakistani and Hindu-Muslim comparisons, the argument is reminiscent
of the inequality between the contenders in the Cold War: you could demonstrate
for disarmament in the West, but to demonstrate for this in the East Bloc
(except if it were for unilateral disarmament by the Western “war-mongers”)
would have put you in trouble.
Siva Prasad Ray
also mocks the RK Mission’s grandiose claim of having evaluated not just
a few popular religions, but all religions: “Did Rama Krishna ever
worship in accordance with Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Saurya or Ganapatya principles?
No, he did not. (…) Neither did he worship in accordance
with the Jewish faith of Palestine, the Tao religion of China, the religion
of Confucius, or the Shinto religion of Japan.”20
Empirically verifying the truth of each and every religion is a valid project
in principle, but a very time-consuming one as well.
According to Ray,
the slogan of “equal truth of all religions” is “nothing but a watered-down
sentiment that means nothing. It is useful
only in widening the route to our self-destruction. It does not take
a genius to realise that not all paths are good paths in this life of ours;
this is true in all branches of human activity.”21
Unlike the RK Mission monks, Ray has really found some common ground with
other religions and with rationalism too: they all agree on the logical
principle that contradictory truth claims cannot possibly all be right;
at most one of them can be right.
To sum up, Ray
alleges that the RK Mission stoops to a shameful level of self-deception
and ridicule, that it distorts the message of Ramakrishna the Kali-worshipping
Hindu, and that it distorts the heritage of Swami Vivekananda the Hindu
revivalist. Yet, none of this alleged injustice to Hinduism gives
the Mission a place outside Hinduism. After all, there is no definition
of “Hindu” which precludes Hindus from being mistaken, self-deluding or
suicidal. Regardless of its fanciful innovations, the RK Mission
remains a Hindu organization, at least by any of the available objective
definitions. Alternatively, if the subjective definition, “Is Hindu,
he and only he who calls himself Hindu”, is accepted, then of course the
RK Mission, unlike its founders, is no longer Hindu,-but then it is no
longer Ramakrishna’s mission either.
The larger issue
revealed by the incident with the RK Mission is a psychology of self-repudiation
which is fairly widespread in the anglicized segment of Hindu society,
stretching from actual repudiation of Hinduism to the distortive reformulation
of Hinduism itself after the model of better-reputed religions. In
a typical symptom of the colonial psychology, many Hindus see themselves
through the eyes of their once-dominant enemies, so that catechism-type
books on Hinduism explain Hinduism in Christian terms, e.g. by presenting
many a Hindu saint as “a Christ-like figure”.22
Modem translations of Hindu scriptures are often distorted in order to
satisfy non-Hindu requirements such as monotheism. This can take
quite gross forms in the Veda translations of the Arya Samaj, where entire
sentences are inserted in order to twist the meaning in the required theological
direction. The eagerness to extol all rival religions and to be unsatisfied
with just being Hindu is one more symptom of the contempt in which Hinduism
has been held for centuries, and which numerous Hindus have interiorized.
6.4. Yogic value of Ramakrishna’s
Ram Swarup reflects
a bit a more deeply on the RK Mission lore about Ramakrishna’s visions: “The
students of Yoga know that ‘visions’ are of a limited value and they prove
very little. (…) They tell us more about the visionary than about the object
visioned.”23 In Christianity and Islam, visions
have nothing to do with the respective concepts of salvation, and in the
Hindu Yoga tradition, they are equally unimportant (unlike in Shamanism,
where the “vision quest” is the central experience). If the RK Mission
monks had known this common trait of each of the religions concerned, they
would not have concluded to the equal truth of these religions on the basis
of one individual’s visions.
Even the sentimental
theology of “equal truth of all religions” deserves a better basis than
an individual’s vision: “The fact is that the truth
of harmony and human brotherhood derives not from an absorbed trance but
from an awakened prajñâ or wisdom; and its validity
depends not on any dramatic ecstatic visions but it belongs to man’s (…)
natural reason unspoilt by theologies of exclusiveness.”24
Universalist ideas are very much part of the general Hindu outlook, but
are not conceived as depending on ecstatic experiences.
of the faces visioned by Ramakrishna is again a normal element in the visions
produced as a side-effect of yoga practice: “From the Yogic viewpoint also
there was nothing unusual or extraordinary about Ramakrishna’s visions
of Jesus and Muhammad. When one meditates
on the object (karmasthâna), it undergoes several successive
modifications. It gets internalized; it loses its blemishes; it assumes
a luminous form (jyotishmatî); it assumes a joyous form (visoka).
All this is a normal process of yogic modification and ingestion.”25
fact that images of Jesus and Mohammed passed through this mental process,
“need not give birth to an indiscriminate theology like the one produced
by the Mission-that all prophets and religions are equal and that they
say the same thing”.26 Ram Swarup points
out that yogic writings like Patanjali’s Yoga Sûtra always
stress the importance of careful observation and discrimination, quite
the opposite of the facile and sweeping conclusions which the RK Mission
monks draw from one or two alleged visions.
Ram Swarup offers,
for contrast, the example of another luminary of the Bengal Hindu Renaissance,
who did not lose his power of discrimination after having had visions:
“Visions of a transcendental state have a limited phenomenal (vyavahârika)
validity. For example, Sri Aurobindo, as a
prisoner of the British, saw in the British jail, in the British judge
and in the British prosecuting officer the veritable image of vasudeva,
but this did not invalidate the Indian struggle for independence nor the
reality of British imperialism. There was no slurring over, no loss
of discrimination.”27 Ram Swarup’s point
is: whatever Ramakrishna may have visualized concerning Mohammed, vigilance
against Islam remains a foremost duty of responsible Hindus, for reasons
which can be ascertained without reliance on ecstatic visions.
6.5. The verdict
spite of all the arguments to the contrary offered by Hindus, the Calcutta
High Court ruled in 1987 that the Ramakrishna Mission is a non-Hindu religious
minority.28 The public debate occasionally
resumed and so did the court proceedings. When
the case was taken to the Supreme Court, the Ramakrishna Mission submitted
that “any attempt to equate the religion of Ramakrishna with the Hindu
religion as professed and practised will be to defeat the very object of
Ramakrishnaism and to deny his gospel.”29
1995, the Supreme Court had the final say and ruled that “Ramakrishnaism”
is a branch of Hinduism.30 As Hinduism
Today reported: “On July 2nd, 1995, the Supreme Court of India declared
that neither Sri Ramakrishna nor Swami Vivekananda founded any independent,
non-Hindu religion. Thus ended the RK Mission’s
labyrinthine attempt to gain the privileges accorded only to minority religions
in India, specifically the right to manage their extensive educational
institutions free from government control.”31
The verdict came
with an unexpected rider, disappointing the West Bengal Government and
considerably sweetening the defeat for the RK Mission: “Despite the legal
loss, the court’s decision surprisingly allows the RK Mission to retain
control of its schools in Bengal. This was
not by virtue of any constitutional provision, but rather because the law
in Bengal regarding the governing of schools specifically exempted the
RK Mission schools from government control.”32
All those concerned
about Hindu unity heaved a sigh of relief. In a last skirmish, the
Mission’s office-bearer Swami Hiranmayananda polemicized with Ram Swarup
and denied that Swami Vivekananda had ever expressed pride in Hinduism. Ram
Swarup now only had to quote the Supreme Court verdict, which had quoted
Vivekananda a number of times to this very effect, e.g.: “Say it with pride:
we are Hindus.”33 Another
clinching quotation from Ramakrishna himself was that “various creeds you
hear about nowadays have come into existence through the will of God and
will disappear again through His will (…) Hindu religion alone is Sanâtana
dharma” for it “has always existed and will always exist”.34
Ram Swarup remarks
that none of the Ramakrishna Mission spokesmen have been able to point
out even one instance where Ramakrishna or Vivekananda expressed a desire
to give up Hinduism or to start a new religion. For, as so often,
Ram Swarup and other Hindus had in fact accepted the burden of proof by
taking the trouble of proving the Hinduness of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda,
when that burden was logically on those who made the totally new claim
about “Ramakrishnaism”. Now the court case had exposed the Mission’s
inability to discharge its own burden of proof and to offer even the faintest
evidence of Ramakrishna’s desire (let alone decision, let alone implementation
of the decision) to found a new religion separate from Hinduism.
The evidence offered by the Mission consisted entirely of testimonies by
outsiders (Romain Rolland, Arnold Toynbee, even Lenin) to the “universal
spirit” of Ramakrishna or Vivekananda, but even these Westerners (still
a source of authority) could not be quoted as attesting any repudiation
But the Supreme
Court verdict was only a battle won, and the war continues. Ram Swarup
observes: “Though it took shape under particular circumstances, the RK
Mission now has an articulated philosophy of being non-Hindu, a veritable
manifesto of separation. (…) Now that it is forcefully articulated, the
case for separation could exert a continuing influence on the minds of
RK Mission authorities. (…) Pseudo-secularism is abroad, and under its
auspices Hinduism is a dirty word, and disowning Hinduism is deemed
both prestigious and profitable. Those ideological
conditions still obtain, and no court can change them. (…) In trying to
prove that it was non-Hindu, [the Mission] spoke quite negatively of Hinduism
(…) Can the RK Mission outlive this manifesto of separation?”35
In Ram Swarup’s
view, the RK Mission’s problem with being Hindu is but a particular symptom
of a widespread and deep-seated trauma: “We will do well to remember that
Hinduism has passed through a thousand years of foreign domination.
During these centuries, its deepest ideas and its cherished institutions
were under great attack. The trauma of this period produced deep
psychological scars. Hindus have lost self-confidence.
They have become passive and apologetic-apologetic about their ideas, their
institutions, about themselves and about their very name. They behave
as if they are making amends for being Hindus.”36
This, then, is the fundamental problem underlying the intellectual and
political ferment which in the present study we are seeking to map out
and understand. And such a large-scale problem will take time to
find its solution.
6.6. Is the Arya Samaj Hindu?
Many Hindus feared
that a different outcome in the RK Mission court case might have had a
disastrous precedent value for other organizations with a weak Hindu self-identification.
Jagmohan, former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir and a hero of the Hindutva
movement, comments: “Had the Supreme Court come
to the same conclusion as the Calcutta High Court, many more sects and
denominations would have appeared on the scene claiming positions outside
Hinduism and thereby causing further fragmentation of the Hindu society.”37
Then again, perhaps
the effect of a recognition of the RK Mission as a minority would not have
been nearly as dramatic as Jagmohan expected, for in several states, another
Hindu reformist organization has enjoyed minority status for decades without
triggering the predicted exodus. Jagmohan himself has noted a case where “the
temptations in-built in Article 30 impelled the followers of Arya Samaj
to request the Delhi High Court to accord the status of a minority religion”
but “the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court rightly rejected the contention
of the Arya Samaj”.38 However,
as early as 1971, the Arya Samaj gained the status of “minority” in Panjab.
Then already, it had that status in Bihar, along with the Brahmo Samaj.39
a way, the Arya Samaj is a minority: the Arya-Samajis are fewer in number
than the non-Arya-Samajis.40 By this criterion,
every Hindu sect is a minority, and every Hindu school which calls itself
“Shaiva school” or “Ram bhakta school” would pass as a minority institution,
protected by Art.30. But that is of course not how the courts and the legislators
have understood it: in principle, all Hindu minorities within the Hindu
majority are deprived of the privileges accorded to the “real” minorities.
In Swami Dayananda’s
view, the term Arya was not coterminous with the term Hindu. The
classical meaning of the word Arya is “noble”. It is used
as an honorific term of address, used in addressing the honoured ones in
ancient Indian parlance.41 The term Hindu
is reluctantly accepted as a descriptive term for the contemporary Hindu
society and all its varied beliefs and practices, while the term Arya is
normative and designates Hinduism as it ought to be. Swami
Dayananda’s use of the term Arya is peculiar in that he excludes the entire
Puranic (as opposed to the Vedic) tradition from its semantic domain, i.e.
the major part of contemporary Hinduism. Elsewhere in Hindu society,
“Arya” was and is considered a synonym for “Hindu”, except that
it may be broader, viz. by unambiguously including Buddhism and
Jainism. Thus, the Constitution of the “independent,
indivisible and sovereign monarchical Hindu kingdom” (Art.3:1) of Nepal
take care to include the Buddhist minority by ordaining the king to uphold
“Aryan culture and Hindu religion” (Art.20: 1).42
Either way, the semantic kinship of the two terms implies that the group
which chose to call itself Arya Samaj is a movement to reform Hinduism
(viz. to bring it up to Arya standards), and, not another or a newly
The Arya Samaj’s
misgivings about the term Hindu already arose in tempore non
suspecto, long before it became a dirty Word under Jawaharlal Nehru
and a cause of legal disadvantage under the 1950 Constitution. Swami
Dayananda Saraswati rightly objected that the term had been given by foreigners
(who, moreover, gave all kinds of derogatory meanings to it) and considered
that dependence on an exonym is a bit sub-standard for a highly literate
and self-expressive civilization. This argument retains a certain
validity: the self-identification of Hindus as “Hindu” can never be more
than a second-best option. On the other hand, it is the most practical
choice in the short run, and most Hindus don’t seem to pine for an alternative.
6.7. Are travelling gurus Hindus?
A somewhat special
case is that of the travelling Hindu gurus in the West. They
don’t have to worry about Article 30 or the Communist government in Kolkata,
but they do have to fine-tune their communication strategy vis-à-vis
the Western public. Usually they claim that their yoga is “universal”43,
often also that it “can be combined with other religions”. Thus,
in a popular self-presentation video of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental
Meditation (a.k.a. the Science of Creative intelligence), a Christian pastor
is interviewed and he testifies that he has deepened his Christian faith
with the help of TM. In the West, weary and wary of religious labels,
this seems to be a more successful strategy than an explicit attempt at
conversion would be.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) generally denies
that it is Hindu, in spite of practising purely Hindu rituals and a purely
Hindu lifestyle in the service of a purely Hindu god.44
That this policy is guided by petty calculations of self-interest is clear
from the cases where ISKCON exceptionally does claim to be Hindu, viz.
when collecting money from Hindus.
A former ISKCON
member explains: that ISKCON is non-Hindu “is clearly evident in the writings
and lectures of Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON’s founder, as well as in the day-to-day
preaching statements of its members and current-day leaders. What
is especially troubling is that ISKCON periodically does claim to be a
Hindu organization. Unfortunately, these claims on the part of ISKCON
occur when, and only when, it serves the legal and financial interests
of the sect. Thousands of unsuspecting Indian
Hindus have been persuaded to contribute funds to the group with the reassurance
that they were supporting ‘Hinduism’, ‘Hindu’ temples and the printing
of ‘Hindu’ books.”45
But these peculiar
elements of separatism in this sect or that can only occur because of the
general background of the depreciation of Hindu identity. In Christianity
and Islam, only the reverse case exists: sects claiming to be Christian
(Mormons) or Muslim (Ahmadiyas, Alevites) but being denied that label by
the orthodox. The day Hinduism gets respected again, these sects
will probably reaffirm their Hindu identity, and the RK Mission will preface
its publications with Vivekananda’s appeal: “Say with pride, We are Hindus!”
to the RK Mission register (quoted by Ram Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission
in Search of a New Identity, p-3), there were 1400 Ramakrishnaist monks
and 106,072 lay followers in 1980; on an Indian scale, this is definitely
Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity (1986) and
his exchange of arguments with RK Mission representative Ram Narayan in
Indian Express, 19/20-9-1990 and 15/16-11-1990.
Swarup: “His vision and mission. Vivekananda is being wrongly portrayed
as a champion of a synthetic religion”, Observer of Business and Politics,
28-8-1993. No source is given for what seems to be a quotation; at
any rate, it sums up, faithfully if not literally, the message of the first
part of Vivekananda’s famous address: “Is Vedanta the Future Religion?”
(San Francisco 1900), reproduced in Vivekananda’s complete Works,
vol.8, see esp. p.124-125.
Constitution and Rules, art. IV, p.4.
in S.P. Ray: Turning of the Wheel, p.58.
of the step-by-step genesis of this story are given in Ram Swarup: Ramakrishna
Mission in Search of a New Identity, p.8-9.
the alleged vision of Jesus was slightly more glorious than that of Mohammed,
Ram Swarup sarcastically suggests (Ramakrishna Mission, p.9) new
horizons to the “equal truth of all religions” school: “This difference
could provide much scope for future disputants. One school may hold that
while all prophets are equal, some are more equal than others.”
M. Williams: “The Ramakrishna Mission: A Study in Religious Change”, in
Robert D. Baird: Religion in Modern India, p.62.
as Ch.7 in S.P. Ray: Turning of the Wheel.
scenario has been related to me by at least a dozen overseas Hindus in
the UK and the USA; the Hindu revivalist publisher Arvind Ghosh (Houston,
speaking to me in October 1995) told me that in the Houston area alone,
he knew of over 30 cases of Hindu girls marrying Muslims to the dismay
of their parents. Others, like RSS prachârak Rama Shastry
from Los Angeles (October 1996), assured me that the magnitude of this
problem is being exaggerated.
in Illustrated Weekly of India, 6-2-1993, p.11. Likewise: “In Khairontoli
[in the tribal belt near Ranchi], there are as many as 15 out of 28 families
with 45 children whose fathers are Muslims and mothers Christian tribals.
(…) But marriage is held in a unilinear direction, with Muslim boys tying
the knot with Christian tribal girls and not vice-versa. Invariably,
their offspring bear Islamic names.” This report by Manoj Prasad was mis-titled:
“Stupid Cupid sees not caste, creed in Bihar” (Indian Express, 23-1-1994),
for what it shows is not at all that love overrules religious discrimination,
on the contrary: even in these reported love marriages, Muslim families
see to it that the dominant partner is Muslim, and that at any rate, the
children are exclusively Muslim.
Ray: Wheel, p.58.
Subramanian: “A Secular Vivekananda. Interview with Kundrakudi Adigalar”,
travelling in the US, Vivekananda ate whatever he was offered, including
pork and beef. This is one more reason why his recognition as a “representative”
of Hinduism at the 1893 Parliament of Religion in Chicago was out of order,
a pure stroke of personal luck.
Ray: Wheel, p.60.
Ray: Wheel, p.61.
Ray: Wheel, p.63.
least one Muslim reply is known. Ram Swarup (Ramakrishna Mission,
p.11) quotes an article “Ramakrishna and Islam” from an unnamed Bangladeshi
journal, in which a Muslim author argues that Islam does not allow you
to “take a holiday and spend a few days as a Muslim”, because “the practice
of Islam lasts till death. To embrace Islam and then leave it makes
a man an apostate”, an act which “is punished with death”.
Ray: Wheel, p.56.
Ray: Wheel, p.59. Saurya: devoted to Sûrya,
the sun as deity; Ganapatya: devoted to Ganapati/Ganesha,
the elephant-headed deity.
Ray: Wheel, p.62.
in Viswanathan Edakkandiyal: Daddy, Am I a Hindu?, p. 157.
Swarup: Ramkrishna Mission, p.11.
Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission, p.13.
Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission, p.12.
Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission, p.12.
Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission, p.12, with reference to Aurobindo’s Uttarpara
Speech. Vâsudeva, “son of Vasudeva”, is Krishna’s
in M.D. McLean: “Are Ramakrishnaites Hindus? Some implications of
recent litigation on the question”, in South Asia, 1991/2.
in Hinduism Today, Sep. 1995, p.1.
international monthly Hinduism Today (Honolulu), Sep. 1995, captioned
this news as “Ramakrishna Mission Wins!” (viz. wins back its true Hindu
Supreme Court to RK Mission: You’re Hindus”, Hinduism Today, Sep.
“India’s Supreme Court to RK.Mission: You’re Hindus”, Hinduism Today,
published Ram Swarup’s initial comment on the verdict on 13-8-1995 (also
in Observer of Business and Politics: “Faith denied or identity
regained?”), Hiranmayananda’s reply on 24-9-1995, and Ram Swarup’s final
rejoinder on 8-10-1995. Reference is to Vivekananda’s Complete
Works, vol.3, p.368-69. Incidentally, no less a secularist than Jawaharlal
Nehru testifies (Discovery of India, p.337) that Vivekananda was
a “Hindu sannyasin” and that “in America, he was called the ‘cyclonic Hindu’”.
by the judges from the testimonial collection The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,
then quoted by Ram Swarup in “Ramakrishna Mission: identity recovered”,
Organiser, 21-7-1996, written in reply to a statement by RSS man
P. Parameswaran, President of the Vivekananda Kendra, who defended the
RK Mission’s stand with reference to the impression that its very existence
Swarup: “The RK Mission: judging the judgment”, guest editorial in Hinduism
Today, Sep. 1995.
Swarup: “The RK Mission: judging the judgment”, guest editorial in Hinduism
Today, Sep. 1995.
“Hinduism and Article 30”, Organiser, 6-8-1995.
“Meaning, message and might of Hinduism”, Organiser, 10-9-1995.
by Edward A. Gargar: “Peril to the Indian State: a defiant Hindu fervor”,
in Arvind Sharma: Our Religions, p. 54.
more principled Arya separatism also exists among Arya Samaj individuals,
see D. Vable: The Arya Samaj, which emphasizes its distinctive traits
and its quarrels with traditionalists. But Arya Sarvadeshik Pratinidhi
Sabha president Vandematharam Ramachandra Rao assured me (interview, 1995)
that the official position still defines the Arya Samaj as a reform movement
of Hinduism, whatever its legal status for practical (educational) purposes
Pali ayya and Apabhramsha ajje, we see the word evolve to
become the modern honorific suffix -jî, as in Gândhjî-jî.
It is well-known in Buddhist expressions like the Chatvâri-ârya-satyâni,
the “four noble truths”, the Arya-ashtângika-mârga,
the “noble eightfold path”, and Arya Dharmna.
Peaslee: Constitutions of Nations, p.772 and 778.
from marking a religion as non-Hindu, tall claims of universalism are typical
of modern Hinduism, e.g. this one by Prof. M.M. Sankhdher (“Musings on
Hinduism”, Organiser, 7-12-1997): “Hinduism is an all-embracing,
comprehensive, universal, human religion which preaches love for all creations-humans,
animals, plants and inanimates.”
do Hindus say, ‘I’m not a Hindu’?”, Hinduism Today, October 1998,
Morales: “Appalled and disgusted”, letter, Hinduism Today, January
Back to Contents
Page Back to VOD Books
Back to Home